When I’m giving creative writing classes, I think it’s important to waken up the senses. It blows off the dust of everyday life and gets everyone in the mood for writing. And there’s no better way to set your senses on fire than eating an orange. I bring a punnet of small oranges into class and ask students to write about the experience of eating an orange.
Oranges work all five of your senses. The skin feels rough under your fingers as you peel. Peeling releases that sharp, sweet orange smell. The sensation of breaking through the skin of the orange itself can be a little icky. Then you put a segment in your mouth and hear the slight pop as you bite through the outer layer. And finally, your mouth floods with tangy juice.
Oranges are a fruit that demand to be noticed. I have yet to meet a student who is non committal about oranges. Their reactions tend to be mixed. Some people relish the experience and actually start eating the orange, which I encourage. Others have a horror of being sticky. And a surprising number can’t eat oranges for medical reasons.
Why would I mess with my students’ heads in this way? First of all, writing about sensations you don’t entirely like is a far more interesting challenge and produces more vivid writing. Secondly, the senses are a portal to your emotions and memories. Eating an orange helps students tap into incredibly strong memories.
A lot of these memories are sunkissed. People recall holidays in foreign climes, picking oranges straight from the tree. For older people, oranges are still symbols of unimaginable luxury. Others are slightly more troubled; some had oranges thrust upon them and some were horrified at the mess eating an orange made.
In writing, you have to show a bit of guts. You have to risk being sticky. If you want to tap into some rich writing material, get your hands dirty and eat an orange. Then see what memories the orange evokes. It doesn’t have to be an orange memory; any food-related memory counts.